The BJP has embarked on a membership drive to increase its membership by 20 percent. The program was launched by PM Modi in Varanasi on 6 July. The ‘world’s largest party’, as claimed by the BJP, is said to have 11 crore members – even higher than China’s Communist Party.
Party Vice-President and ex-Madhya Pradesh CM, Shivraj Singh Chouhan, is in-charge of this campaign. The campaign was launched on the 118th birth anniversary of Syama Prasad Mookerjee, the founder of BJP’s parent organisation, the Bharatiya Jana Sangh. The ‘Sangathan Parv’ as the initiative has been called, will primarily focus on strengthening its booth-level units.
Why A Larger Membership Is Crucial
Members act as messengers of political parties. They help disseminate the achievements of the party to the masses. These foot soldiers influence voter behavior and play a key role in ensuring high turnout on voting day. Just for perspective, the number of members in the Congress party, even by optimistic estimates, is about 4 crore, just one-third of the BJP’s membership.
The BJP received 17.2 crore votes in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, out of which 4.2 crore votes were on account of the ‘Modi factor’, and roughly 7.4 crore could have accrued from members (40 percent).
Cong’s NYAY Failed To Take Off Due to Lack of Foot Soldiers
In the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, we saw how the grand old party failed to disseminate information about their pet project NYAY to every nook in the country. Since it was launched late, and the target audience were the poor who didn’t have a footprint on either traditional media or social media, the Congress badly needed foot soldiers to educate people about the scheme and its benefits.
On the other hand, because of its well-oiled machinery, the BJP was able to spread the message of its ‘Balakot achievement’ far and wide, which helped build a nationalist fervor in favour of the BJP.
Where Does The BJP Enjoy Highest Membership?
The state-wise current membership numbers for the BJP are not available. However, a 2015 tweet offers a clue:
The top five states in terms of membership are UP, Bihar, MP, Gujarat and Maharashtra. One thing is clear from the chart – in both 2014 and 2019, the BJP performed better in places where it enjoys larger membership.
The new membership drive is expected to iron out the current imbalances in the membership structure. Here are some of these incongruities:
- 11 percent members belong to Gujarat, while its population share is only 5 percent.
- MP, Delhi, Rajasthan, and Karnataka have a higher share of the membership than their share in population in the country.
- Bihar-Jharkhand have a lower proportion of members than its population, presumably because it is in an alliance with JDU.
Focus on States Where BJP Membership is Lower
The focus of the exercise is also on states where membership is lower and the party wishes to expand its footprint:
- In Andhra-Telangana, the party’s membership is half of its population share. After a horrendous defeat in Andhra, Chandrababu Naidu is on the backfoot. Four of its Rajya Sabha MPs have joined BJP. 18 out of his 23 MLAs are reportedly in touch with the BJP to defect. The BJP senses a big vaccum in Andhra politics, and hopes to occupy TDP’s space.
- In Bengal, the BJP put up a spirited performance, winning 18, seats close on the heels of TMC’s 22 seats. The party’s aim is to unseat TMC in the 2021 state elections. For this, it needs to increase its members.
- In Kerala too, the BJP will be facing a state election in 2021. It hopes to replace the CPM. It has so far failed to make any significant breakthrough, and hopes to boost its chances through this membership drive.
- In Tamil Nadu, although the party is banking on the AIADMK’s cadre strength, the party aims to improve its numbers.
A Goal To Remain In Power Till 2047
The BJP’s goal is to remain in power till 2047 (the centenary of India’s independence) as often stated by Ram Madhav. It aims to enjoy the same status as the Congress did from 1950s-1980s. A weakened and clueless Congress, along with regional parties losing their charm, is helping the BJP’s cause.
The Congress received more than 40 percent vote share and was in power with absolute majority for most of the 40 years, except for a brief period of the Janata Party’s rule. The Congress was practically the only big political party in India before Independence. It attracted members across religions and received the support of all communities to throw out the British from India. These members stuck with the party for decades, as they felt that the Congress had largely contributed to India’s independence.
However, the Congress has not been able to significantly expand its membership base over the last 3 decades, which is visible in the votes polled by the party. It has polled 12 crores or less votes during 1989-2019, despite an over two-fold jump in the total votes polled, from around 30 crores in 1989, to 60 crores in 2019.
It’s a strange paradox really, that the party (BJP) which has won handsomely has started a new membership drive, while the party which has been trounced (Congress), is still grappling with the issue of its President. The BJP understands the power of numbers: more members = more votes. More votes = higher chances of it winning again and again.
(The author is an independent political commentator and can be reached at @politicalbaaba. This is an opinion piece. The views expressed above are the author’s own.The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)